Mayor Kim Love went to great lengths in her remarks at the June 4 Council Meeting to paint a picture of her being powerless to play any role in bringing about possible disciplinary action against misbehaving councillors. Her comments were a response to criticism she received concerning her lack of action following the incident involving Councillor Maika on May 2. Click HERE to read that report. In doing so, she appeared to use carefully chosen words, pointing out that she herself cannot, and in fact has no power to, make findings of misconduct. This is true, but although she pointed out that members of the public can complain to the Integrity Commissioner, she failed to mention a very important fact.
That important fact is that she, like every other Head of Council or Councillor in Ontario, has the power to INITIATE the investigative process that could lead to justifiable disciplinary action against a council member. In fact given the statutory requirements that municipalities have of being “Accountable and Transparent” surely she, as Head of Council, has the obligation to do so in appropriate cases.
Complaints to Integrity Commissioners in other Ontario municipalities
Last October the Mayor of South Huron, Ontario, Maureen Cole, filed a complaint with her municipality’s Integrity Commissioner against a member of her own council. It alleged conduct against a member of the public amounting to “harassment, bullying and lack of respect for the decision-making process” that is, conduct very similar to that alleged to have occurred here on May 2. She asked the Commissioner to find that in so acting, the councillor in question was in breach of his code of conduct.
A survey of media also reveals that in the past two years the Mayor of the Municipality of Bluewater, Tyler Hessel, filed a complaint with his municipality’s Integrity Commissioner against a councillor; and Councillors Marnie Hill of Bluewater, Brian Doucett of Carleton Place, and Gael Miles of Brampton filed complaints against their councillor-colleagues or mayors.
In each of these cases, the integrity commissioners accepted jurisdiction and investigated and then made decisions, and in taking these steps the mayors and councillors were simply exercising the right as members of council given to them by S.223.4(1)(a) of The Municipal Act which says:
“This section applies if the commissioner conducts an inquiry under this part:
(a) In respect of a request made by council, a member of council or a member of the public about whether a member of council or of a local board has contravened the code of conduct applicable to the member;” [emphasis mine]
Judging by her comments at the June 4th meeting, Love is either unfamiliar with this section or prefers to act as if it does not exist.
No complaint, no consequences
By claiming impotency in contrast to Mayor Cole, Love exposes herself to even greater criticism. This is because, irrespective of how egregious the conduct of a member of her Council might be, no disciplinary consequences can flow if no complaint is ever made to the Integrity Commissioner. The Municipal Act clearly states that disciplinary steps can only be taken if the Integrity Commissioner upholds a complaint. Therefore, without a complaint there can obviously be no consequences.
The Legislature of Ontario enacted the power for members of council, in addition to members of the public, to complain about their colleagues on council for a very good reason. It recognized that information about bad behaviour on the part of councillors might be known only to their fellow members and never enter the public domain. In such circumstances, in the public interest, the Municipal Act imposes a “whistle-blowing” requirement on them.
Prior to this most recent episode, there have been other examples of Mayor Love’s reluctance to react to arguably improper behaviour on the part of Councillors.
- Broken promise to refer human rights complaint
In 2016 the Township, and thus taxpayers, paid more than $8,000 to an independent investigator following an employee’s complaint against a member of Council. That investigator, a human rights specialist, determined that the Councillor had wrongfully harassed two township employees by breaching their human rights. Somehow Council concluded, having discussed the report behind closed doors with, as was leaked at the time, the same Councillor participating, it “…has not determined whether a breach of the code of conduct had occurred.” This despite the fact that breach of the Ontario Human Rights Code is a specific violation of Council’s Code of Conduct. The Mayor announced publicly that Council would appoint an integrity commissioner to review the matter. However, despite their ability to do so under the Municipal Act neither the Mayor nor Councillors subsequently made a complaint.
2. Ignoring false accusation about Railway Station
Readers will recall that in the period between two Special Council Meetings held in November 2015 and May 2016 about the Railway Station, two Councillors conducted what some described at the time as a “vendetta” against the Station. Some committee and council meetings degenerated into shouting matches with their supporters at times disrupting proceedings with heckling and applause. At one such meeting a councillor said, “I know, and the public knows, that the Station is full of asbestos” (a known potentially hazardous material). There was no truth to this allegation and what made this outburst even more indefensible was that the same Councillor along with all other members of Council and members of the public had been specifically told at the November meeting that environmental studies showed that following minor modifications the building was free of environmental hazards. The accusation, which smacked of scare-mongering, was reported in the local media but never withdrawn, corrected or apologized for by the Mayor let alone the Councillor herself. It was as if it had never happened despite the potential alarm caused to the many users of the building such as employees, volunteers, visitors, parents and children.
3. Mayor lets Councillor off the hook by apologizing for him
During her opening comments at the November 8, 2017 council meeting, the mayor made serious allegations of misconduct against a Councillor she did not name. In short, she accused him of misrepresenting that a recent decision of council was only reached because there had been a “backroom deal” therefore suggesting improper secrecy and possible dishonesty. However, rather than concluding by saying that such conduct appeared to be contrary to Council’s Code of Conduct and that she would therefore refer the matter to the Integrity Commissioner, she actually issued an apology on his behalf, and, furthermore, not to the taxpayers but to the former CAO! The Councillor in question remained mute.
4. Integrity Commissioner prevented from completing investigations
As The Current reported on February 28 in an article entitled Township sued by former Integrity Commissioner (Click HERE to read), Jack Rosien, the Township’s first Integrity Commissioner, was dismissed, he said, in breach of his contract. Following notice of his dismissal, he advised Council in his report made on April 18, 2017 he had yet to complete three ongoing investigations into alleged contraventions by unnamed Councillors of Council’s Code of Conduct. He recommended that he be allowed to complete them in the interests of saving time and taxpayers’ money. Council refused to agree to what appeared to be a very sensible suggestion but gave no reason. (This subject and the facts revealed in the subsequent legal proceedings will be the subject of a future Current article.)
A pattern of questionable behaviour
This history could be interpreted in a few ways. It is possible, but unlikely, that Mayor Love condones the bad behaviour of Councillors. Possibly she downplays it in the hopes that MV taxpayers will not notice. Perhaps she hopes to salvage the “best council ever” narrative that she and her supporters created in 2014.
All these interpretations are inexcusable and they suggest very weak leadership.
In her inaugural address on December 1, 2014 Mayor Love set a standard for the Council:
… there are four guiding principles we will strive to uphold as we move forward. We will be respectful, inclusive, open and trustworthy.
As a Council we intend to respect each other, our staff, and the public. We will review By-Law 2011-02 which establishes a Code of Conduct for members of Council, and consider the inclusion of an Integrity Commissioner to investigate complaints. Updating the Code of Conduct will provide Council with a common integrity base that will serve to enhance public trust.
Given what she said then, what is her explanation for not following the path taken by other mayors and councillors in the province? Surely the public interest demands that elected officials must be given the unequivocal message that codes of conduct must be obeyed, not circumvented. The Mayor’s policy of inaction, unfortunately, reduces the deterrent to further episodes of inappropriate behaviour. After all, as Head of Council, and notional CEO of the Township, a mayor has the overriding responsibility to follow the Municipal Act so as to ensure compliance with obligations of transparency, integrity and accountability.